Ewer (pitcher) with the name of the Caliph al-Aziz – Fatimid caliphate (10th – 12th centuries)

Ewer

This artifact is a really good example of the famous and delicate rock-crystal work. The ewer was made in Egypt between 975 and 996 AD. Those dates are known by an inscription on the ewer. The name of the Caliph al-Aziz is engraved on it, and he ruled the Fatimid caliphate during that period. The ewer is kept in the Saint-Mark’s treasury in Venice.

This ewer is characterized by a short collar, a spout in a spoon shape, a pear shape body, a wide apodous base and a straight handle. A small moulding surrounds the decoration. In the upper level of the paunch, we can see the inscription in Kufic with the name of the Caliph al-Aziz. The decoration of this level also depicts two cheetahs sitting on each side of a bush. At the top of the handle, there is a spot to place the thumb which is in the shape of a small ibex lying down. The decor is carved very deeply and slightly at an angle. The iconography evokes a hunting theme. The work on the rock-crystal was done at a very high level. The aesthetic qualities and physical particularities of the material, evoking a magical dimension and mystical symbols, explain why those objects were prized. They were used in exchanges between powerful men or as a war tribute. This specific ewer is part of a set including nine similar objects. They probably were made in the same workshop.

The rock-crystal is a very difficult material to work on since it is mostly shaped by abrasion. The Fatimid caliphate led rock-crystal carving to a perfection never equaled since and made it a real industry. The production of objects in rock-crystal was a small industry but very prestigious. They were made for the caliph and his courtiers. The material was considered petrified water (associated with life source), or water which froze very slowly. A verse of the Koran mentions that the paradise’ water is drunk through crystal. The rock-crystal was associated with the divine light because of its transparency and purity.

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